Coronavirus (COVID-19) and society: what matters to people in Scotland?

Findings from an open free text survey taken to understand in greater detail how the pandemic has changed Scotland.

2. What has made it easier or more challenging for people to stay safe during the pandemic?

During the coronavirus pandemic, various measures and regulations have been introduced to limit the spread of the virus. While the aim of these measures was to slow the spread of the virus and help people stay safe, they changed the way we connect, travel, work, shop and other important aspects of everyday life.

There is data on what people think of the different measures and policies [8] but less understanding on why. This section captures the diversity and complexity of people’s experiences to consider what factors have helped and encouraged people to stay safe and what factors made it more challenging.

2.1 What helped and encouraged people to stay safe?

Feeling motivated to protect others

This was expressed at a general population level, ranging from statements about ‘protecting the NHS’, ‘the vulnerable’ and the local community, to more specific references to people’s own families.

“Limiting social contact was easy, because I did not want the guilt of my irresponsible actions to affect my own family or lives of others.” (Female, 25-34)

“Masks - I don't find it inconvenient and it's such a small thing to do to protect others... LFD testing - takes a few minutes and lets me know if I could cause problems for others.” (Female, 45-54)


People expressed gratitude and appreciation, particularly for the availability of free LFD tests (at that time) and for vaccinations.

“Testing every time I’m shopping or meeting friends is straightforward. And how lucky we are to have ready, free availability of tests.” (Female, 70+)

“I am particularly grateful for the vaccine programme. I feel in our privileged position in Scotland we must do all we can to assist global measures to contain Covid.” (Female, 45-54)

As noted in section one, common emotional responses included feeling exhausted and fed-up. To help deal with these emotions, and the toll that the pandemic had taken, gratitude was used to help generate a positive and prosocial response to the pandemic.

“I feel tired, guilty and desperate for the world to be more normal. But at the same time incredibly grateful that measures were put in place to keep us safe.” (Female, 25-34)

However, for those who had higher health risks if they caught COVID-19, appreciation for the measures stemmed from a more critical need to stay alive.

“I have been extremely grateful to do all measures and nothing has been difficult as I value my life.” (Male, 45-54)

Making new connections

Lack of social contact has been a major stressor in the pandemic. Therefore, the ability to make new connections with those in the local community helped to offset some of the negative impacts. It helped people to feel a sense of solidarity.

“Isolation- it’s been hellish. I’ve had to dig deep, it’s changed me. The hardest thing through the pandemic was feeling forgotten- that there’s no one to talk to where others had family. However, this time I got a different perspective. I got to know my neighbours and got involved in community project (something I didn’t have time for due to travelling to work)” (Female, 45-54)

“Social interaction increased during lockdown in our neighbourhood. A sense of compassion and solidarity was palpable.” (Age/gender not specified)

Having the capability and the opportunity

A person’s capability involves their knowledge, skills and physical ability. For example, measures that were perceived as being in someone’s personal control were easier to follow.

“Social distancing, face masks and limiting social interactions. They are all reasonably easy to follow and are all within my control.” (Female 35-44).

Respondents recognised their capability and opportunity to follow the measures were influenced by factors such as, their geographical environment, their financial situation, profession, living situation and their understanding of the risk.

“Mask wearing, handwashing, distancing, and socialising outside are all easy, but I live in a rural town, where there is space, the pavements aren't crowded, and I don't live in a building with common stairs or entrances.” (Female, 55-64).

“We’re very lucky where we live. Working from home has been fine. Reduced social contact is a challenge but you find ways virtually to catch up. Testing is ok and we understand why we have to do it.” (Female, 45-54).

Flexibility and choices

People were supportive of measures and policies that gave them more flexibility and were associated with positive personal outcomes. For example, there was support for working and studying from home. The flexibility allowed people to balance work with responsibilities such as childcare or caring for a relative. Some school aged children (with access to devices and the internet) reported that the flexibility of online learning was a big positive.

“Working from home has been really great for myself and my partner, it has given us a lot of safety and flexibility with no detriment to the organisation we work for.” (Male, 35-44).

“The flexibility that home working has given us as parents has been a huge gift and a silver lining of the pandemic” (Female 35-44).

Accessing events online was described as a positive for people who may have found it challenging to attend an in-person event before the pandemic. Also, for those involved in the delivery of online events, including teaching, online delivery allowed them to reach new and wider audiences.

“I have had to teach online for the first time - it has brought new audiences. It has also allowed me to access teachers who live far away.” (Female, 65-69).

2.2 What has made it more challenging for people to stay safe?

Contradictory and/or disproportionate guidance

Respondents expressed difficulty and frustration in following guidance that they found contradictory, confusing or disproportionate. Specific comments included those related to:

  • the requirement to wear face coverings (from those who are exempt)
  • contradictory guidance on wearing face coverings in different settings
  • confusing guidance around testing and self-isolation
  • a lack of accessible information for groups such as children and young people.

“I'm pregnant and antenatal classes aren't running, but you can go to night clubs and bars. What is that about?” (Female, 25-34).

“I found it quite difficult to carry out unpaid caring responsibilities early on due to the restrictions on contact that were imposed. Reduced social contact and interaction restrictions were contradictory and unworkable” (Male, 55-64).

There were challenges following guidance that differed between UK nations. Specifically, some found it challenging that Scotland had longer periods of restrictions in place than the other nations in the UK. Some also rejected the term ‘protection measures’ as they felt they were applied to control rather than to protect.

“I do not deny Covid, never have, have had all vaccinations. But it is now well proved lockdowns do not work and the length of time Scotland has been faced with a wrath of restrictions is deplorable. In Scotland this is now all about politics and control.” (45-54, gender not specified).

Worry about the harmful consequences of the measures

People expressed worry about the societal and economic consequences of the measures on people and communities.

“Reduced social contact and social interaction has been dreadful for people living alone, people with mental health issues, people suffering domestic violence, the elderly and so on. I have personally found it has taken a huge toll on me, I've seen it taking a toll on friends and family. It has ground the life and soul out of people and it's totally unacceptable.” (Gender/age not stated)

There was a particularly strong feeling towards the negative impact of the restrictions on children and young people:

“Children have been treated appallingly throughout the pandemic and I worry about the mental toll on young people in the years to come.” (Female, 35-44).

Worrying about the harmful consequences of the measures made it harder for people to follow some of the measures. Given the duration of the pandemic and the associated toll it has had on wellbeing, there was a sense that people had reached a turning point.

“I used to be scared but I now have my own informed opinions. The impact on all round well-being and mental health outweighs any risk of Covid… No more. I’ll make my own choice and assess the risk myself on a daily basis.” (Female, 35-44).

The behaviour of other people

It was emphasised that it was the actions of other people which made it more challenging to feel safe. For some, this was exacerbated as they lived in an area with busier shops, hospitality, public transport and outdoor spaces.

“I avoid public transport wherever possible but there’s almost always someone on my train/subway without a mask. I understand staff want to avoid confrontation but I wish there was a harder line on this policy, masks only really work if everyone wears them.” (Female, 25-34).

Trust in other people also plays an important role. The threat of the pandemic can increase people’s sense of trust in others. We have noted examples of community cohesion and people acting with the motivation to protect others.

However, fear and uncertainty generated through the pandemic can also undermine levels of trust. This has created tensions and ruptures within families, friends and communities in terms of different views about how to interpret and navigate the different measures.

“We are entirely at the mercy of a society that does not care and does not enforce anything in an effective way, so until there are actual repercussions for people who risk others, we will be shut away.” (Non-binary, 25-34).

“At some point you begin to feel like your individual sacrifice is not worth the continual isolation. It got a lot worse when it became clear that those in power weren't following the rules. The Dominic Cummings story in particular affected me.” (Male, 25-34).

Being at higher risk to COVID-19

There is evidence of ongoing negative impacts on the lives of people in the highest risk group.[9] Due to feeling unsafe or not being able to calculate the risk, respondents described avoiding places and situations and feeling isolated.

“None of it is particularly easy for someone who has been a prisoner for two years. I have been staying at home.

Going for a walk in the countryside on my own or with the dogs.

Avoiding going to anywhere indoors other than my own home or a medical appointment - even my 4th vaccination caused a panic attack because all and sundry were there chatting in groups and not distancing, no more separate appointments for us immuno-suppressed, just chucked in with everyone else because we don't matter…” (Female, 45-54)

“Most CEV (clinically extremely vulnerable) families barely go out, almost never see anyone. We take walks which are safe. We do online shops instead of going in stores…It's barely a life as it is. We don't see a future of holidays, cinema, meals out, all of those choices in life are gone for most CEV people.” (Male, 35-44).



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